The Conservative Party needs to be "very careful" about the language it uses about immigration and should move back to talking about the economy as quickly as possible, a former Tory immigration minister has said.
David Cameron is expected to deliver a highly anticipated speech today, outlining a further crackdown on inward migration from the European Union.
The prime minister, who had promised to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands, was dealt a blow ahead of his intervention, when official statistics revealed a surge in net inward migration of 260,000 over the last year.
Labour said the figures showed Cameron's target had been "ripped to shreds". And Nigel Farage said it showed the Conservative Party's policy had been a "total failure". And a leading pollster has warned that the political advantage the Conservatives had on immigration has now "disappeared".
Damian Green, who served as immigration minister from May 2010 until September 2012, told a meeting of the modernising Bright Blue Tory think-tank on Wednesday evening it made sense for the prime minister to make a speech on immigration.
"What any prime minister has to do is address the issues people care about, people care about immigration so clearly it's a sensible thing for him to make a speech," he said.
However he added that the party needed to focus on other issues. "I hope that will be the end of it," he said. "Next week we have the Autumn Statement, so we can move back on to the economic agenda where we all want to see us talking."
Asked by The Huffington Post whether he was concerned about the growing anti-migrant rhetoric in the country, he said: "I spent five years in opposition shadowing immigration and two years in government as immigration minister and one of the things I was absolutely insistent about throughout was that language the Conservative Party used needed to be moderate, needed to be sensible, needed to be factually based.
"We needed to get control of the immigration system so the policies we were implementing did involve taking tough decisions. But absolutely you have to be very, very careful about the language you use."
Green was speaking after The Daily Express was sharply attacked by Labour for running a front page story that suggested the British born children of immigrants were "hidden" migrants. Writing on The Huffington Post, Lord Stewart Wood, one of Ed Miliband's closest advisers, said the spin on the story was "inaccurate" and "highly offensive".
Green, was was sacked as police minister by Cameron in the 2014 reshuffle, said the Tories were not responsible for what appeared in the newspapers, but criticised the Daily Express' headline. "Children of migrants are not 'hidden migrants', they are British citizens," he said.
The MP for Ashford had been giving a speech defending the merits of the Tory modernisation project, as the party leadership is under pressure to move to the right to combat the threat from Ukip. He warned colleagues that the party must not be seen to "subcontract compassion to the Lib Dems so everything that is nice and cuddly is seen as a Lib Dem thing to do".
Ahead of Cameron's speech, Bobby Duffy, the managing director of pollster Ipsos MORI, said today that "the political advantage the Conservatives had on immigration has disappeared".
"They had a significant lead over Labour, but now Ukip, Labour and the Conservatives are all on a very similar footing as best party on this key issue," he told The Huffington Post. "It should be no surprise that trust in David Cameron on immigration is low – making promises that aren’t kept is a really effective way to lose trust."
He added: "But to be fair this is nothing new – there has been very little trust among the public that any government or politician in power is in control of immigration since we started tracking views in the 2000s. In our most recent polling it’s worrying for the PM that 72% of people think immigration would be the same or higher if there is a Conservative government next May. The PM’s got some convincing to do."